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Senate demands answers from Amazon over Ring surveillance

Ring's camera networks could become "dangerous burdens on people of color."
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Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Ring's controversial "Neighbors" surveillance network and cozy relationship with police departments has drawn the eye US lawmakers. In a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos, Senator Edward Markey expressed concern that the system "could easily create a surveillance network that places dangerous burdens on people of color and [feed] racial anxieties in local communities."

Amazon acquired Ring last year for $1 billion in an attempt to counter Google's purchase of Nest. The company launched its Neighbors app shortly afterwards, explaining that it would allow users to reports suspicious goings-on and report them to law enforcement.

However, several reports raised privacy concerns about a mega-corporation teaming with law enforcement. Privacy and civil liberties experts were particularly concerned about the ease with which police departments could request Ring surveillance videos without a warrant.

In light of evidence that existing facial recognition technology disproportionately misidentifies African Americans and Latinos, a product like this has the potential to catalyze racial profiling and harm people of color.

What caught lawmakers' eyes, however, was the risk of Amazon marrying its controversial facial recognition technology with Ring's surveillance network. Such technology has shown to be poor at recognizing people of color, in one case misidentifying 26 California lawmakers as criminals.

"I am particularly alarmed to learn that Ring is pursuing facial recognition technology with the potential to flag certain individuals as suspicious based on their biometric information," wrote Markey. "In light of evidence that existing facial recognition technology disproportionately misidentifies African Americans and Latinos, a product like this has the potential to catalyze racial profiling and harm people of color."

Markey also included a list of ten questions, asking which law enforcement entities have access to Ring data, whether they share it with others and whether Ring consulted with experts on civil liberties and criminal justice before implementing the system. Ring told Gizmodo that it's reviewing the letter, but declined to comment further. The company has until September 26th to respond.

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